The Lady be­tween a rock and a hard place

Bangkok Post - - OPINION - LARRY JAGAN Larry Jagan is a spe­cial­ist on Myan­mar and a for­mer BBC World Ser­vice News Ed­i­tor for the re­gion.

Mus­lim Ro­hingya have fled across the bor­der to Bangladesh from Myan­mar in the past three weeks to es­cape the army’s clear­ance oper­a­tions. Hu­man rights groups claim it is a “scorched earth” pol­icy — rem­i­nis­cent of the mil­i­tary’s tra­di­tional “four cuts” strat­egy for deal­ing with other con­flict zones. About 3,000 houses have been razed to the ground, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal ac­tivists.

The in­ter­na­tional hue and cry has be­come deaf­en­ing. This week many world lead­ers will raise the is­sue of Myan­mar’s treat­ment of the Ro­hinyga at the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Only last week both UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res and the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil urged the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to end the vi­o­lence against the per­se­cuted Mus­lim mi­nor­ity.

This was the sec­ond meet­ing of the coun­cil on the is­sue since the cur­rent cri­sis erupted at the end of Au­gust. Two fur­ther high-level meet­ings will take place in New York dur­ing the gath­er­ing of world lead­ers at the United Na­tions this com­ing week, ac­cord­ing to UN of­fi­cials.

Last week, Myan­mar’s civil­ian leader Aung San Suu Kyi an­nounced she was not at­tend­ing the ses­sion, to con­cen­trate on ur­gent do­mes­tic mat­ters — taken to mean the Rakhine sit­u­a­tion. Vice Pres­i­dent Henry Van Thio, ac­com­pa­nied by the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Thaung Tun, are go­ing in her place.

Thaung Tun is a ca­reer diplo­mat, who is well ex­pe­ri­enced in de­fend­ing Myan­mar’s rep­u­ta­tion and de­flect­ing cen­sure at the UN — a task he has han­dled since the time of the mil­i­tary regime.

In the past few weeks, since the Kofi An­nan Com­mis­sion made its rec­om­men­da­tions, a num­ber of world lead­ers have ad­vised the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment them as a mat­ter of ur­gency. This is in fact the cor­ner stone of Aung San Suu Kyi’s strat­egy for Rakhine reconciliation, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment in­sid­ers. But the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine has pre­vented this so far.

“The se­cu­rity forces have been in­structed to ad­here strictly to the code of con­duct in car­ry­ing out se­cu­rity oper­a­tions, to ex­er­cise all due re­straint, and to take full mea­sures to avoid col­lat­eral dam­age and the harm­ing of in­no­cent civil­ians in the course of car­ry­ing out their le­git­i­mate duty to re­store sta­bil­ity,” said a state­ment from Aung San Suu Kyi’s of­fice last week.

How­ever, Aung San Suu Kyi will ad­dress the na­tion in the next day or so out­lin­ing the gov­ern­ment’s roadmap to reconciliation in Rakhine state, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sources. As part of this plan, a “Min­is­te­ri­alled Com­mit­tee to mon­i­tor the progress of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions will be es­tab­lished speed­ily, and an Ad­vi­sory Board com­pris­ing em­i­nent per­sons from home and abroad will also be con­sti­tuted to as­sist the Com­mit­tee in its work,” ac­cord­ing to Aung San Suu Kyi’s of­fice.

But the Lady — as she is com­monly known — is be­tween a rock and a hard place, ac­cord­ing to diplo­mats and an­a­lysts based in Yan­gon. “She does not have com­plete free­dom to move, when it comes to the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine,” a diplo­mat told the Bangkok Post. It is the army com­man­der who is call­ing the shots, he added.

The civil­ian gov­ern­ment and the army are in a power shar­ing ar­range­ment, es­tab­lished by the con­sti­tu­tion drawn up by the pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary regime, be­fore they stood down.

Un­der the con­sti­tu­tion, the mil­i­tary ap­points 25% of MPs in both houses in the na­tional par­lia­ment and all 14 re­gional as­sem­blies. The army ap­points one of the three vice-pres­i­dents, and three min­is­ters in the cab­i­net — Bor­der and Home Af­fairs and the De­fence min­is­ter — in­clud­ing the po­lice.

“With its con­trol over the three key power min­istries, the Tat­madaw (the Myan­mar mil­i­tary) and it’s min­ions in the GAD [Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion Depart­ment — the lo­cal bu­reau­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tion] are run­ning rings around the Na­tional League for Democ­racy’s chief min­is­ters, who find them­selves ‘home alone’, cut out of de­ci­sions and rel­e­gated to rib­bon cut­ting cer­e­monies,” long-time Myan­mar observer, and re­gional head of the Hu­man Rights Watch, Phil Robertson told the Post in an email.

The sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine state is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the lo­cal Bud­dhist pop­u­la­tion, who are stri­dently anti-Mus­lim. In fact, much of the loot­ing and burn­ing of Ro­hingya homes is ac­tu­ally car­ried out by Rakhine vil­lagers, who ac­com­pany the po­lice and mil­i­tary on their “clear­ance oper­a­tions”.

Con­flict be­tween the Bud­dhist pop­u­la­tion and the Ro­hingya — whom they re­fer to as Ben­galis, as does the gov­ern­ment — goes back many decades. This dis­crim­i­na­tion dates back to be­fore In­de­pen­dence.

Much of the Myan­mar pop­u­la­tion agrees with the of­fi­cial view that the Ro­hingya are not cit­i­zens of Myan­mar, but il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh, even though many Ro­hingya fam­i­lies have been in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions.

This has left Aung San Suu Kyi in an im­pos­si­ble po­si­tion in terms of pub­lic opin­ion — she can­not be seen to openly sup­port the Rakhine Mus­lims, for fear of alien­at­ing the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s dom­i­nant Myan­mar eth­nic group, the Ba­mar. This an­tipa­thy has in­ten­si­fied af­ter the at­tacks by the Arakan Ro­hingya Sol­i­dar­ity Army (ARSA) last Oc­to­ber and again in Au­gust.

So in­stead of us­ing her moral au­thor­ity, she re­mained silent on the is­sue, as far back as the first con­tem­po­rary out­break of vi­o­lence in 2012.

Now she has the added com­pli­ca­tion of hav­ing to work with the army. Af­ter the elec­tion, the two lead­ers had to find ways to work to­gether. She had the man­date, the gen­er­als the real power.

“Since the very first days of the NLD gov­ern­ment the two real lead­ers — the Lady and the Gen­eral — have had a clear un­der­stand­ings on how they should work to­gether,” said a for­mer se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. “It’s a mu­tual recog­ni­tion of their de facto lead­er­ship: Min Aung Hlaing leads in se­cu­rity mat­ters and Aung San Suu Kyi the rest,” he ex­plained.

The prob­lem is there is no arena for the two to dis­cuss over­lap­ping con­cerns as with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine. The Na­tional De­fence and Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (NDSC) is the only meet­ing ground, but the mil­i­tary holds the num­bers: six out of 11 seats are mil­i­tary ap­pointees.

These in­clude the pres­i­dent, the two vice-pres­i­dents, the army com­man­der and his deputy, the three min­is­ters ap­pointed by the army, the for­eign min­is­ter and the speak­ers of the two houses of par­lia­ment.

The NDSC has never met dur­ing the NLD gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Al­though there has been two quasi meet­ings on Rakhine — one last Oc­to­ber and the other shortly af­ter the ARSA at­tacks.

The army is still push­ing for a state of emer­gency to be de­clared in Rakhine, which only the NDSC has the au­thor­ity to ap­prove.

It also has the power to sus­pend demo­cratic gov­ern­ment. Aung San Suu Kyi — who is re­sist­ing the mil­i­tary’s ef­forts to mil­i­tarise Rakhine — is loath to call it for fear she will loose the up­per hand.


In­dian Mus­lims shout slo­gans as they hang a san­dal across a por­trait of Myan­mar’s State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi, dur­ing a protest rally against the per­se­cu­tion of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in Kolkata, In­dia, on Sept 11.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Thailand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.